“To confess, then,” murmured Izz, “I made sure to-day that he was going to kiss me as he held me; and I lay still against his breast, hoping and hoping, and never moved at all. But he did not. I don’t like biding here at Talbothays any longer! I shall go hwome.”
The air of the sleeping-chamber seemed to palpitate with the hopeless passion of the girls. They writhed feverishly under the oppressiveness of an emotion thrust on them by cruel Nature’s law—an emotion which they had neither expected nor desired. The incident of the day had fanned the flame that was burning the inside of their hearts out, and the torture was almost more than they could endure. The differences which distinguished them as individuals were abstracted by this passion, and each was but portion of one organism called sex. There was so much frankness and so little jealousy because there was no hope. Each one was a girl of fair common sense, and she did not delude herself with any vain conceits, or deny her love, or give herself airs, in the idea of outshining the others. The full recognition of the futility of their infatuation, from a social point of view; its purposeless beginning; its self-bounded outlook; its lack of everything to justify its existence in the eye of civilization (while lacking nothing in the eye of Nature); the one fact that it did exist, ecstasizing them to a killing joy—all this imparted to them a resignation, a dignity, which a practical and sordid expectation of winning him as a husband would have destroyed.
They tossed and turned on their little beds, and the cheese-wring dripped monotonously downstairs.
“B’ you awake, Tess?” whispered one, half-an-hour later.
It was Izz Huett’s voice.
Tess replied in the affirmative, whereupon also Retty and Marian suddenly flung the bedclothes off them, and sighed—
“So be we!”
“I wonder what she is like—the lady they say his family have looked out for him!”
“I wonder,” said Izz.
“Some lady looked out for him?” gasped Tess, starting. “I have never heard o’ that!”
“O yes—’tis whispered; a young lady of his own rank, chosen by his family; a Doctor of Divinity’s daughter near his father’s parish of Emminster; he don’t much care for her, they say. But he is sure to marry her.”
They had heard so very little of this; yet it was enough to build up wretched dolorous dreams upon, there in the shade of the night. They pictured all the details of his being won round to consent, of the wedding preparations, of the bride’s happiness, of her dress and veil, of her blissful home with him, when oblivion would have fallen upon themselves as far as he and their love were concerned. Thus they talked, and ached, and wept till sleep charmed their sorrow away.
After this disclosure Tess nourished no further foolish thought that there lurked any grave and deliberate import in Clare’s attentions to her. It was a passing summer love of her face, for love’s own temporary sake—nothing more. And the thorny crown of this sad conception was that she whom he really did prefer in a cursory way to the rest, she who knew herself to be more impassioned in nature, cleverer, more beautiful than they, was in the eyes of propriety far less worthy of him than the homelier ones whom he ignored.